Too many are fighting the wrong enemy - Keith Roulston editorial
Sometimes I think about 25 per cent of a politician’s job could be accomplished by a figure in a business suit stuffed with straw, hanging from a rope with a baseball bat easily available so voters can take out their frustrations by knocking the stuffings out of it.
Much of the time politicians function as handy whipping boys, including under the pandemic, for not making things the way we want them to be. If you want the population to be vaccinated against COVID-19 more quickly, blame the politicians. If you’re tired of having to restrict your lifestyle to fight the plague, then blame the politicians.
The problem with fighting this pandemic is that the real enemy is an invisible virus. Because fighting the spread of the virus is beyond the ability of any individual, the government acts for all of us. But as pandemic fatigue sets in, people forget their real enemy and take out their frustration by getting around the rules (or the simple advice) the government has imposed in an attempt to slow the virus’s spread.
Prime examples are when the Ontario government has announced new restrictions will be enforced on a certain date – say a Monday morning. Stores have been packed all weekend long leading up to the changes. People failed to grasp the reason for the new restrictions – to limit the number of contacts we have to prevent the virus’s spread – and crowded together as they circumvented government rules.
It hasn’t always been like this. Last winter when word of the mysterious and dangerous new virus began spreading around the world, we were glad to have government take the lead in fighting this frightening invader. We were ready to accept a lockdown after hearing the horror stories from New York City where hospitals were overwhelmed and so many people were dying they had to resort to temporary mass graves to handle all the bodies.
Special programs to help those financially disadvantaged by the closing of stores and other businesses showed government cared. Nearly every premier, as well as the Prime Minister, had high approval ratings. All this goodwill seemed warranted when we succeeded in “flattening the curve” and reducing the rate of new infections. By summer, the plague hadn’t gone away and our lifestyle was still cramped, but we could dream of better days.
But then the second wave arrived. Public health officials had been warning of a second wave of COVID-19 infections ever since it became obvious the virus had a strong foothold in Canada. After all, in the Spanish Influenza a century ago, the second wave was deadlier than the first.
I thought they were too pessimistic. After all, we were better educated and had better communications than a century ago. Surely we’d learn from the first wave and use those lessons to keep from allowing the disease to get out of hand again. It turns out the public health officials knew human nature better than I. The second wave occurred exactly because of the frailties of human behaviour.
Governments tried to reward citizens by relaxing restrictions when new infections dropped over the summer. They hoped
that people would discipline themselves and keep the virus somewhat under control until we could get the new vaccines that
were just around the corner. They were just as overly optimistic about human nature as I was.
New infections surged. Critics on one side blamed government for not locking down the economy sooner. The government brought in more regulations – and got blamed for being too heavy-handed by those who wanted an open economy.
Governments begged people to play their part by reducing their number of contacts, physically distancing and wearing masks. Resistance grew against government rule and recommendations, as if it was the government, not the virus, we were fighting.
People just didn’t get it. Even high profile politicians who helped draft the rules ignored them and travelled abroad over Christmas as if the rules didn’t have a purpose.
According to a poll, 48 per cent of Canadians ignored the public health guidelines that they should limit their Christmas holiday season celebrations to only those who lived with them. The pollsters found nearly all of these insisted their actions had no impact on spreading the virus. Well some of them were wrong. Infections have surged since the holidays.
The real enemy, the invisible virus, is sickening many thousands, overwhelming our hospitals and killing far too many. Meanwhile people seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to try to outsmart government restrictions. Pardon politicians who have spent the last year trying to save lives if they throw up their hands in resignation.